Friday, 18 April 2014

Understanding Good Friday

During Holy Week some 40 years ago, just as I was coming to the end of my teenage years, I first saw a concentration camp. It was a beautiful spring morning in the Austrian countryside, with signs everywhere of nature coming to life. Then we arrived at Mauthausen camp. I imagine the birds kept singing and the daffodils still danced in the breeze, but for us — a group of students nearing the end of our secondary school education — everything suddenly seemed totally still, as we entered a world that we had heard and read about but had never seen. Even as a cleaned up monument to this awful, cruel piece of history, the camp was terrifying.

It was Good Friday.

Back then, I was a committed atheist. The terrible appropriateness of the day was not in my mind as we approached the camp. And oddly enough, on the preceding evening, over a drink with my classmates, I had held forth on the impossibility that there could be a divine creator who would allow starvation, war and oppression.

Over the subsequent weeks, while reflecting on the experience, something occurred to me. The Via Dolorosa is not a sentimental journey. It is not the beautification of suffering, it is not the nobility of pain. God’s plan on Good Friday was not to invite us to contemplate a sense of cruelty redeemed, but rather of cruelty understood. We have to believe, and Jesus has allowed us to believe, that suffering can have a meaning. But suffering is not good, it is not beautiful, it is not destiny; it is not God’s will.

On that day, 40 years ago, I began, very slowly, on my own journey back to faith. Part of that faith is the belief that we cannot fully and properly live the Christian life until we have really, really understood Good Friday.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Posted by Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Friday, 18 April 2014 at 6:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

Can I say how much I, and I am sure many others, appreciate these writings. The fact that there are few or no comments in no way indicates that us TA readers and contributors are obsessed by only one subject. Thank you.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 18 April 2014 at 4:11pm BST

I'd like to second Richard's Comment, if I may. It's a real tonic to have such splendidly thoughtful spiritual essays. Thank you T A for their inclusion.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 18 April 2014 at 7:12pm BST

And I third these comments.
Whatever we disagree about here, however passionately, we are all here because our faith and its mysteries matter so much to us.

Thank you, editors, for that much needed counterbalance that brings us all together again. And for your consistently outstanding choice of contributors to these spiritual sections.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 18 April 2014 at 9:37pm BST

I also agree with Richard's comment. Our preacher's Good Friday sermon was pretty much about Ferdinand's final sentence.

Posted by: Pam on Friday, 18 April 2014 at 11:07pm BST

However if it were Justin Welby he would say we can't speak about against these abuses because the Germans wouldn't like it and we mustn't upset them. Have we elected a mouse to the see of Canterbury?

Posted by: Chris A on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 12:11am BST

May I also vote in favour of Erika's comment?
Looks like Peace has broken out in time for Easter, as indeed it should; for didn't Our Blessed Lord say in the Upper Room at the very first Easter - "Peace Be With You"?

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 5:29am BST

Fourth them. The rawness of basics such as these without sophistry... true Anglican.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 5:31am BST

Amen. Peace be with you all.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 9:49am BST

No Chris, Welby wouldn't say that, as I suspect you well know. A sad and superficial response.

Posted by: helen on Monday, 21 April 2014 at 11:21pm BST
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